Are my eternal rewards and my eternal inheritance the same thing? One seems to imply that we can get more (our rewards). The other seems more static and more out of our hands (our inheritance). So, are these rewards and our inheritance different things, or are they the same thing? This is a perceptive question from our APJ listeners, and particularly from a listener named Nathan who lives in Schenectady, New York. “Pastor John, I have read and really enjoyed your book Reading the Bible Supernaturally. I believe my question is the beginning fruit of a deeper grace to look long and linger over passages of Scripture. My question is on 1 Peter 1:4, where the apostle refers to an ‘inheritance’ which is ‘reserved’ for us in heaven. This got me thinking about Matthew 6:20, where Jesus commands us to ‘lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.’ My question is about the relationship between the inheritance Peter refers to as being reserved for us right now and the treasure Jesus tells us to lay up for ourselves over time. One seems static, the other dynamic. Are they the same? Are they different? If they are different, how do they relate?”
This is a great question. I love this kind of question because it makes me try to relate different parts of Scripture to each other to see how they might illuminate one another. And I’ve never in my life — that I can remember — tried to connect these two verses. And so, it was a very, very challenging and encouraging question for me.
Two Angles on Eternity
So, Nathan is asking about the possible relationship between 1 Peter 1:3–4, which says, “[God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance [that’s the key phrase] that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” And then Matthew 6:19–20 says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
The difference between these two texts that stands out is that the inheritance in 1 Peter seems to be fixed, settled, glorious, firm, already in existence without any laying up on our part. It says, “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” Now that’s a settled, glorious reality.
Peter says that the way we come into that inheritance is that God causes us to be born again for it, born again to it, born again into it. “[God] has caused us to be born again . . . to an inheritance [for an inheritance] . . . kept in heaven.” So, there’s no emphasis in this text at all on something we do in order to bring about the inheritance. The idea of living so as to lay it up is not in this text in 1 Peter. We are born again by virtue of the new birth; we believe on Christ; believing on Christ, we are united to the Son of God. We are sons of the living God. We are heirs of God because he’s our Father. That’s a closed, done, complete, glorious thing.
Now, on the other hand, the words of Jesus in Matthew 6 tell us to be about the business of doing the things that lay up treasures in heaven for us. In other words, there’s a correspondence between what we do here in this life and the treasures that we will enjoy in heaven. So, what sorts of things does Jesus have in mind when he says that we should be doing things that bring about treasures in heaven?
“There’s a correspondence between what we do here in this life and the treasures that we will enjoy in heaven.”
And one answer comes from Matthew 19:21, where Jesus says to the rich young ruler, who’s very reluctant to give up his riches, “Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” In other words, “Open the hand that is clasping your wealth so tightly — open your hand — and let your wealth drop on the poor, and take my treasure. Take me. Take me as your treasure. You can’t serve two masters. I’m here — the greatest treasure in the world. Let go and take me.” That’s what they have to do, and the poor are served in the process.
And then Luke 12:33 makes the same point that selling your possessions and giving to the needy is the way you provide treasures in heaven. It says, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. [And thus] provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.”
So, if we just compare 1 Peter 1:4 to Matthew 6:20, we see that in one of them our future as Christians is a fixed, settled treasure — an inheritance that exists in heaven for us simply by virtue of our being born again into God’s family. We are children of God by new birth, and therefore, we’re heirs of God. And that doesn’t come into being because we are generous. In fact, it works just the other way around: we are able to be radically generous and risk-taking because we have such a treasure in heaven by faith. And we can see that, for example, in Hebrews 10:34: “You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, [because] you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”
But Matthew 6:20 and 19:21 and Luke 12:32–33 teach that the generosity we show does in fact lay up treasures in heaven.
Now, at first, these two emphases — the one in Peter and the one in Jesus’s teachings — seem to be at odds, and I can think of three possible ways to resolve this apparent tension. The first one is to say that the treasures of Matthew 6 and the inheritance of 1 Peter are totally different things. So, the inheritance is not conditional upon any particular generous way of life, but the treasures are conditional upon a generous way of life. There is no conflict because they’re totally different realities.
Another possible resolution would be to say that the treasures laid up in heaven and the inheritance kept in heaven are the same reality. Both are conditional, and that does not hinder the fact that the inheritance is settled and firm and sure, because God will see to it that all his children do in fact live generous lives because they are born again. So, the treasures and the inheritance are conditional, but they are not uncertain because of that. That’s the second possible way to resolve them.
“There will be a variation in the way different Christians experience the fullness of their inheritance.”
The third would be to say that the treasures laid up in heaven and the inheritance refer to the same reality, but that Jesus is calling attention to the fact that there will be a variation in the way different Christians experience the fullness of their inheritance. In other words, every Christian will receive the inheritance of eternal life, but there will be different rewards within that inheritance for the way we have lived our lives.
Safe and Striving
Now I think if we take all of Scripture into account, both the second and the third of these solutions — these resolutions of the tension — are true. Both of them are true and biblical. We don’t have to choose between them. Indeed, I don’t think we should. We’ve talked in this podcast at least four times in the past (APJ 417, 549, 996, 1188) about how there will be different rewards in heaven among God’s children — different capacities to enjoy our eternal inheritance. The parable where one gets to rule ten cities and one gets to rule five cities (Luke 19:16–20), and different teachings like that, point to varieties of rewards.
So, what I would say here is this: let us seek to multiply those rewards as much as possible with lives of love and generosity, and let that very lifestyle confirm that we are truly born again with God’s very generous nature within us. And above all, let us make the certainty of our inheritance as God’s children through faith the foundation of both of those pursuits — the multiplying of rewards and the confirming of our new birth. Both of those pursuits are built on the by-faith-alone confidence that we are the children of God with an eternal inheritance from our Father.